Turkey protests bring rival fans together

Reuters, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Thu, Jun 06, 2013 - Page 20

Days of anti-government protest in Turkey have achieved one feat that has eluded the authorities for years: uniting the fiercely rival and sometimes violent supporters of Istanbul’s “Big Three” soccer clubs.

Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce fans have come together in new-found solidarity during five days of demonstrations against Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The mood has been immortalized in a once-unthinkable photo doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook — three fans in rival shirts marching arm-in-arm under the slogan: “Tayyip do you know Istanbul United? Since 31 May 2013.”

Another photo shows a man in a blue-and-yellow Fenerbahce shirt with a Besiktas scarf wrapped around his face to protect against the tear gas frequently fired by police.

At times the atmosphere among thousands of young protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square resembles a soccer stadium more than a political demonstration. Fans sing and bounce up and down in unison, occasionally booing police helicopters circling overhead.

“Go on spray, go on spray, spray your pepper gas. Take off your helmets, put down your truncheons and let’s see who’s the tough guy,” sang the fans, taunting police with a Besiktas chant which has become popular with the demonstrators.

There are tales of Galatasaray fans coming to the aid of Fenerbahce supporters trapped by the police, or of fans rushing down the hill from Taksim Square to the aid of rival supporters in the nearby Besiktas District on the shores of the Bosphorus.

“We are normally enemies, but this has really brought us together. It’s never happened before,” said university student Mert Gurses, 18, wearing a black-and-white Besiktas scarf and chatting with friends near the fish market in Besiktas.

It is a remarkable transformation in mood among fans more usually soured with animosity which sometimes spills into violence, tainting the image of Turkish soccer.